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Bridge of Sighs: 1903

Bridge of Sighs: 1903

Circa 1903. "Bridge of Sighs, Pittsburgh." Named after the famous span in Venice, it was used to transport prisoners between the Allegheny County Courthouse and the jail. 8x10 inch glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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A Dignified Pile of Rocks

The Architectural Record, September, 1911.

The Building of Pittsburgh

By Montgomery Schuyler

The Business Quarter and The Commercial Buildings

… Of properly public buildings, having already paid one's disrespects to the Post Office and City Hall, one can only say that there is but one specimen of public architecture in downtown Pittsburgh which is much worth looking at or talking about and that, of course, is Richardson's group of the Court House and Jail. Unhappily, it can no longer, since the irruption of the Frick Building, be seen to the best advantage. The effect which it must have produced while it dominated its own surroundings, would account for the great vogue of Richardsonian Romanesque in Pittsburgh, …

Whatever the cause, one is inclined to say that Pittsburgh is the American city which more than any other, more even than Boston, bears traces of the Romanesque Revival. Richardson did nothing, in civil architecture at least, more significant than this group. It fully bears out his description of it while it was still building, that of "a dignified pile of rocks." … Nothing could be more satisfactory in its kind than the jail and its masterly and simple “Bridge of Sighs,” or than the triple main entrance, of which the arches have the ample abutment of the whole extent of the wall.


Below is the same view from July of 2011.

H. H. Richardson at his Finest

The Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail (built 1883-1888) are among the very finest works of Henry Hobson Richardson; the courthouse is one of his most widely imitated works as well. The rough-hewn masonry of the jail is greatly admired even today, particularly such details as the cyclopean voussoirs of the arch behind the horsedrawn wagon parked at the left. Did the folks at the Detroit Publishing Company produce any more views of these two buildings?

Bigger Sighs

The bridge, as seen today below, is quite a bit higher than it was in 1903. Likewise, the entrances have grown larger and one now has stairs. Likely the result of the Hump District excavation on Fifth Avenue from Ross Street to Sixth Avenue. During the 1900s, the "hump" cut took place in the area of downtown known as Grant's Hill. The project began with planning in 1909 and ended with the final cut in 1913. It changed the gradient of Grant Street, Diamond Street, and Oliver, Fifth, Sixth, Webster and Wylie Avenues.

Sreet Is Lower Today

Thanks for the Google image, Plus. In a comparison, it's obvious the street is a good 8 to 10 feet lower today just looking at the height of the pedestrians in both. Look at the additional street-level openings that are grouped about half way down on the jail and evenly spaced on the courthouse that weren't there back in 1903. The stones appear to protrude a couple of inches more than those above and look a little darker on the courthouse. Weird, huh?

Plus 110

Still there, in all its glory:

View Larger Map

I sigh every day.

I work in this building, the left side from this perspective is now the Allegheny County Family Division. It was converted from the jail and now serves the public with, child support, custody, and many other family law services. The right side across the bridge is the Allegheny county courthouse which is still in full operation today. It is said that the ghost of the Biddle Bros still haunts the jail today.

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